The fate of future federal funding to build communities resilient to terror recruiting remains uncertain under the new Trump administration. The regrettable, little-understood effect of this policy limbo: pushing a crucial national security responsibility onto Minnesota and other states that are home to immigrants targeted by Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and other extremist groups.
The uncertainty over federal support for “countering violent extremism” strategies means that state leaders here and elsewhere must rise to the challenge of helping vulnerable communities put down roots in their new homeland. This preventive strategy has wide support from Minnesota law enforcement and is a vital part of the strategies needed to thwart recruiters.
A recent announcement from Gov. Mark Dayton’s administration merits praise for acknowledging this new responsibility and providing a pragmatic example of how states can step up. This past week, the governor’s staff said publicly that it is taking the lead in solving the frustrating stalemate over expanding the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood’s Brian Coyle Community Center.
Cedar-Riverside is home to the state’s Somali-American community, one of the largest in the nation. Sadly, recruiters for ISIL and Al-Shabab, another terror organization, have preyed upon these new Minnesotans. In 2016, nine young men from the state were convicted in federal court of conspiring with ISIL.
For the past year, a Star Tribune editorial series has called for practical solutions to thwart violent extremism. Among them: adequate funding for community youth grants. The grants’ purpose: to empower communities, rather than a Washington, D.C., bureaucrat, to figure out what works best. Money in the first round of grants, announced earlier this year, went to law enforcement programs and locally led nonprofits, many of which provide after-school activities and facilitate parental involvement.
The editorial series also identified an important Minnesota step — expanding the Coyle Center — that is stalled due to friction between two metro organizations over the center’s unusual 99-year lease. Forging a new lease agreement is a condition to access $330,000 approved by lawmakers in 2014 to begin design and planning work on the center’s expansion. The series recommended that Gov. Dayton’s office get involved.
That the 24-year-old, 15,000-square-foot center needs additional space is readily apparent to visitors. It is the heart of this high-rise neighborhood, offering a place for language classes, job training, homework help and youth sports. Its role in winter is even more important, offering kids a safe, warm alternative to cramped apartments and computer time.
The Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board and Pillsbury United Communities are the two parties to the lease. It is unacceptable that they’ve been unable to redo the terms in the two-plus years since the Minnesota Legislature approved design funding. The gridlock has made private donors and other funding sources wary of the project.
Last week, Myron Frans, Dayton’s budget commissioner, had a conference call with Park Board and Pillsbury officials. A meeting is slated for Feb. 27. Minnesotans expect the two organizations to leave that meeting with an agreement. The Coyle Center’s expansion needs to happen soon, and the project is far more important than the two organizations’ differences.